The Role of Criminal Background Checks in the Hiring Practices of Schools

How relevant is the criminal background check for schools, and what should they examine? Learn more about this pillar of the educational hiring process as we review the reasons for and value of background checks for teachers and others involved in education.

Understanding the Critical Role of the Criminal Background Check for Schools

Schools are one of the most fundamental aspects of modern society, but their success largely hinges on who the staff is. Delivering quality education to the future leaders of tomorrow requires more than a well-designed curriculum or classrooms with helpful technology. The teachers who provide the lessons centered on that curriculum are at the core of every success story. A criminal background check for schools is essential for selecting these educators.

Surrounding those teachers is the valuable help of administrators, support staff, coaches and many others. These employees should also receive thorough vetting and screening before hiring. Background checks are more than merely confirming that someone is safe to hire; they’re imperative for developing confidence in a candidate’s skills and suitability. Without these tools, your organization (and its students) could be at risk.

It may seem that background checks are a secondary task in hiring or even an afterthought—a tool you use to finalize your choice of a candidate. However, background checks do much more than simply confirm that someone doesn’t represent a severe risk; with verification tools, you can seek confirmation about an individual’s experience or track record. That broad usefulness makes it worth diving deeper into how a school background check makes a difference.

The scope of your screening can differ based on the level of education your organization provides. Childcare groups and pre-kindergarten may necessitate different types of vetting than hiring an adjunct professor at the college level. However, they all have the same ultimate goal: protect your students, your organization, and your reputation. Let’s delve into why hiring trustworthy individualsfor a campus is vital.

Digging Deeper Into Why Background Checks Matter for Schools

When you use a pre-employment background check for someone applying to work at a school, you’re ultimately trying to do three things:

  • Verify that the individual has the necessary skills, experience, licenses, and qualifications to work in your organization.
  • Seek information about past transgressionor criminal behavior that could represent a threat or risk to children or other staff members.
  • Comply with local or state regulations that mandate vetting applicants before allowing them to work on school campuses.

It’s easy to see how failing to follow through with due diligence can significantly impact each area. A teacher with expired credentials or a falsified educational history may be unable to deliver quality instruction—or even legally work as a teacher.

Missing criminal charges or signs of wrongdoing can create serious risks. For example, one teacher in Florida found a job at another school despite being investigated for inappropriate behavior. In North Carolina, a teacher lost his job at one school for sexual abuse but found work in a neighboring district—where he went on to re-offend. A more thorough background check may have helped prevent harm in such cases.

Not all school districts require background checks, but many do, and the number of states enacting new regulations continues to increase—even private schools now factor in government regulation surrounding safe hiring practices in some areas. Non-compliance could be expensive and lead to irreparable damage, so a well-structured procedure is essential.

What Vetting Solutions Do Educational Organizations Use?

The specific types of background checks a school uses might depend on the requirements set forth by a school board, district, or state government. Generally speaking, several elements go into a successful vetting program for educators, coaches, and other support staff. When structuring a vetting program, research and include the following:

  • A comprehensive criminal background check—one that reviews local county court records and state records. Checking in other states may be advisable. A product like the US OneSEARCH is an excellent foundationfor fast results from countless records.
  • Sex offender registry checks. When applicable, you should also check state-run registries of convicted child abusers.
  • Employment verification.Contact prior schools, ask about the candidate’s employment, and seek information that might provide red flags.
  • License verification. Check that a teacher has the appropriate licenses to educate children.
  • Education verification.Confirm that an individual attended and graduated from the school listed on their resume.
  • Reference checks. Learn about the personal reliability and trustworthiness of a candidate.

Combining these tools provides a detailed overview of potential red flags a candidate might have in their history.

How Should Background Check Results Influence Hiring Decisions?

Evaluating a background check for employment is a multi-step process and often requires attention to detail and a consideration of nuance. Some red flags in a background check are easy to count as potentially instant disqualifiers, such as a recent violent felony, a pattern of serious crimes, or an individual’s presence on a sex offender registry. Local areas may even have specific laws prohibiting hiring such individuals in any role.

However, a criminal record will not always be a barrier to employment in schools. Evaluating records individually can provide context and insight into an applicant’s suitability. For example, someone who committed a crime years ago and has demonstrated significant rehabilitation might still be suitable to work on a campus. Meanwhile, uncovering falsehoods in someone’s credentials is more likely to be disqualifying, especially if a candidate lied about their license or work history.

Every school or district must create and implement policies that align with the twin goals of safety and accessibility.

Do Background Checks Create Safer Campuses?

It’s worth repeating: background checks can’t prevent someone from committing a crime in the future. Someone with a spotless criminal record could still lash out and become violent towards a student. However, a clean record and a solid resume often indicate long-term trustworthiness. Even candidates with some minor issues in their past could be valuable partners in education.

The ultimate goal of using background checks is to manage risk effectively. You aim to reduce the risk of allowing a dangerous individual onto campus. While vetting can’t produce a 100% guarantee, it will enable you to assess each candidate’s pros and cons fully. Ultimately, that can lead to decisions you can feel more confident about every school year.

Building Vetting Into an Effective Hiring Process

When developing your background check workflow, always verify whether your school must comply with a state or local “ban the box” or “fair chance” law. These laws require you to delay when you ask about criminal records. You may need to wait until you make a conditional job offer before ordering background check reports.

Using multiple rounds of interviews can support this process, especially if you make a conditional offer after the first interview. In subsequent interviews, you may have the opportunity to discuss background check results with the candidate. This conversation could provide important context if you find old or potentially troubling records. As part of a far-reaching evaluation process, vetting tools provide critical information to complete your candidate assessment.

Find the Tools You Need to Prepare for Safe Hiring

Background checks aren’t an instant solution to all the risks that schools face, nor do they guarantee that someone won’t commit a crime in the future. However, they remain invaluable for assessing risk and evaluating a candidate’s trustworthiness. Whether you use them to detect falsehoods on a candidate’s resume or to uncover troubling information from a nearby state, screening solutions help schools create a safe and more effective learning environment.

Structuring a screening program that complements your hiring workflow is less intricate with the right partner, such as You can analyze candidates thoroughly with instant criminal record searches, verification checks, and more. Find out more about how to use a criminal background check for schools in our Learning Center, or explore our package options today.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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